Recommend
3 
 Thumb up
 Hide
3 Posts

Maharaja: The Game of Palace Building in India» Forums » Reviews

Subject: User Review rss

Your Tags: Add tags
Popular Tags: [View All]
Maik Hennebach
Germany
Frankfurt
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmb
Of the five games that made this years final round of the 2004 Spiel des Jahres Award, none of my two favorites – St. Petersburg and Raja – got the jury’s vote. And while I had high hopes for Petersburg (not least because Goa, the other excellent spring 2004 offer by Hans im Glück, did not even make the Recommended Thirty), I did not really expect a heavyweight like Raja to win. I would, however, like to write a bit about my reasons for liking it quite a lot so far and why I expect this like to grow into love with more sessions.

The components are top-notch quality and, for the most part, very well designed. For each player, there are a lot of the wooden houses we all know and love from Settlers of Catan, an architect pawn, seven glass beads for palaces and a cardboard disk on which two actions can be secretly selected. And a short rules summary. Then there is the gorgeous board that depicts seven cities connected by roads with little villages on them. One its side is a track with little city markers to show the order in which the Maharaja will visit the cities. And last, there is the Maharaja pawn itself, money chips and, finally, cardboard markers for the personages that will assist you in your worthy endeavor.

Which worthy endeavor, you ask? To be the first one to erect seven splendid palaces to further your Maharajas glory. To this end, you send your architect from city to city to build those palaces, which is horribly expensive and can only be financed if you can convince the Maharaja of your architectural worth again and again. To this end, you have to try to erect more buildings than your competitors in the city that has the honor of currently hosting the Maharaja.

So much for the background – what actually happens? Each round of the game consists of four steps. First, the Maharaja moves to the next city on his route and this city’s marker is moved to the end of the track. Second, all players secretly determine their two actions for this round. Third, the actions are executed by each player and finally, the city in which the Maharaja resides is scored.

Apart from building one or two houses (which cost l gold each) and/or palaces (for a whopping 12 gold), you can use an action to gain some gold, bring houses from the quarry to your building pool, slightly change the Maharajas route through the cities or exchange your current assisting personage for another one. These personages, numbered from one to six (or seven, in the advanced game), determine the order in which the players execute their actions and break ties when scoring cities. Furthermore, they give you some special ability that generally gets better with increasing numbers – the Mogul at 1 has no special ability at all, the Trader at 2 gives you one extra gold, while the Artisan at 6 reduces the cost of palaces from 12 to 3 gold.

In the city scoring step, players get 1 point for each house or palace within the city and another point if their architect is still in town, possibly because he’s busily brownnosing the Maharaja. The central palace of each city – usually the first one built there – is an exception to this simple rule, since it nets 3 points instead of only 1. Monetary rewards for impressing the Maharaja depend on the number of players and range from 10 to 13 gold for the first place, which is barely enough to build another palace.

What complicates matters is that sending your architect hither and yon is not free, and this is where the little villages on the roads come in: one or two houses can be built in each of them, and unless one of them belongs to you, you have to pay 1 gold to the owner of each house (empty villages can not be travelled through at all). Unless you are assisted by personage number 4, the Wandering Monk, in which case your travelling expenses are paid by the bank. Why should you travel around that much anyway? Because you can only build a house or a palace within a city if your architect is present. Since travel is allowed before, during and after your two actions, it is perfectly possible to build in several different cities in one turn, but unless you have a good road network, it’s gonna cost you and enrich your competitors.

On the whole, everyone has to do a balancing act between building houses in villages to allow travel, building houses in city where the Maharaja is to gain income, and building palaces to win the game. Within this rough outline of options, more strategies and decisions await – one can attempt to score some gold from the Maharaja every round or try to score big time every other round by concentrating on a few cities. And as in every good game, what is a good strategy and what isn’t is not written in stone but depends upon the other players.

Apart from the direct competition for the Maharaja’s generosity every round, there are mainly two other ways to screw over your nearest and dearest. One hinges on using one of your actions to gain assistance from a new personage – you either take one that is currently unused or one of another player, who may then choose from the pool of unused personages or take the one you just sent away. In the latter case, there is the possibility to seriously disrupt a plan that depended on a personage, for example a double palace with the Artisan or an extended journey with the help of the Wandering Monk. To add insult to injury, the inability to carry out your preplanned actions is not only a setback for you, but also nets everybody else 2 gold coins.

The second lever is changing the order of the Maharaja’s route with an action, which allows you to move one city up two places. As I found out, this is one of the strongest counters to a strategy where you try to place as many center palaces as possible, since this gives all other players an incentive to prevent scoring of those cities for as long as possible.

All told, Raja is a magnificient game of strategy that manages to be accessible and deep at the same time. If I had to state a single thing about it that impresses me the most, it had to be that the authors married such a varied and complex game to a very elegant victory condition: build all your seven palaces (or build the most by round 10), and that’s it! Simple and admirable.

As if this weren’t enough, there are also two levels of advanced rules, which add a seventh character (the Yogi at number 7, who provides you with an extra action) and some other intricacies. Since I’ve only played a single game with a portion of those add-ons, I can’t really say a lot about them – they sure seem nice, but it should take quite a lot of games before the basic game will begin to bore me.
1 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Teemu Salohalme
Finland
Imatra
flag msg tools
mbmbmbmbmb
Re:User Review
Maik (#44187),

Thanks for the review, it's a good one. There's a couple of mistakes or typos though: firstly, Artisan reduces the cost of a palace to 9 coins, not 3. And secondly, you move one city two steps down, not up, on the governor track.
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Maik Hennebach
Germany
Frankfurt
Unspecified
flag msg tools
designer
badge
Avatar
mbmbmbmb
Re:User Review
Teemu Salohalme (#44533),
glad you like the review, and thanks for noticing and correcting the typos. I'll plead innocent regarding the governor track, however: while you move the city marker downwards on the actual track, the city moves up in the actual order of visits. Since I did not explain the governor track in detail, I thought that this way of putting it was less confusing to someone who does not know the game.

Cheerio,
Maik
 
 Thumb up
 tip
 Hide
  • [+] Dice rolls
Front Page | Welcome | Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Advertise | Support BGG | Feeds RSS
Geekdo, BoardGameGeek, the Geekdo logo, and the BoardGameGeek logo are trademarks of BoardGameGeek, LLC.